Knitting my life back together (or, the power of yarn in ED recovery)
Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows that I love several things in life almost to ridiculous extremes: coffee, cats, and yarn. The latter is a bit of a newer obsession than the first two (I’ve always loved cats, and I was the five-year-old stealing her mother’s Dannon coffee yogurt out of the downstairs fridge), but no less extreme. We shall not discuss the size of my yarn stash, but needless to say, it’s pretty significant.
I first learned to crochet when I was in treatment for my ED. For some reason or another, our afternoon therapy group got canceled and I was really bored. One of the girls there crocheted some of the most beautiful things and, for lack of anything better to do, I asked her to teach me. I was hooked. (Haha, get it? Hooked? On crochet?) I found it really fun, really soothing, and it was just a major bonus that I got to make something and have an item to show for my efforts.
As I’ve gone to treatment centers to speak and such, I’ve found that knitting or crochet is insanely popular. It’s cheap, fairly simple to teach and learn, and it’s a good way to keep yourself occupied. But a study published a few years back in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders (Clave-Brule et al., 2009) on how knitting can help people hospitalized for ED actually broke down the benefits of learning to knit. The researchers took 38 inpatients and encouraged and taught them how to knit as part of their standard recreation therapy on the ED unit. About 2/3 of the patients (25) already knew how to knit, and 13 learned while in the hospital. On average, the patients spent 80 minutes per day knitting, with ranges of 0-5 hours.
Three quarters of the people in the study said that knitting helped to distract them from the ED thoughts and that it provided a means of relaxation. Over half said that knitting provided a feeling of accomplishment, and a sense of comfort and relaxation.
A full breakdown of the patient responses is below.
One of the reasons that the authors believe that knitting is so helpful in people with EDs is that it lowers body state activity. It’s usually heightened in EDs due to overexercise, anxiety, and general muscle tension. Conclude the authors:
…tasks that alter their body state routines may be a novel means of helping individuals with AN switch out of an anxious, preoccupied mindset. This analysis predicts that reconfiguring the relationship between body state routines and cognition may reduce anxiety and distress, allowing distancing of thought and feelings. Clearly, further research is needed to investigate the effects of knitting on individuals with AN, and in particular to distinguishing the relative effects of such a task on distressing thoughts and distressing images.
I wouldn’t say that I knitted my way to recovery; it’s far more complicated than that. But it DID play a huge role in helping me ride out the distress of eating and weight gain, as well as providing me with a hobby that could productively occupy my time.